Doctors Without Borders
Sudan: Nutrition crisis in Zamzam camp, the country’s largest camp – urgent need for large-scale aid
A nutritional crisis continues in Zamzam camp, the largest internally displaced persons camp in Sudan’s conflict-ridden North Darfur state. A study carried out by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) revealed that the nutritional status of the population is at a critical level and has been at its worst since the conflict began in April 2023. United Nations agencies and international NGOs remain in the area, where they were evacuated in April last year, leaving only a small number of personnel behind. As the only medical organization working in the camp, MSF is calling for an immediate and coordinated scale-up of the humanitarian response, including the provision of medical care, water and sanitation facilities, food and cash in the camp.
[Image 1: https://prtimes.jp/i/4782/669/resize/d4782-669-ca5145c026e326474d27-0.jpg&s3=4782-669-e07013afa116e7b038b2002d0a5b60b2-1000×750.jpg] Women and children gather at the MSF clinic in Zamzam camp, January 30, 2024 (C) MSF
1 in 4 children suffer from acute malnutrition
Zamzam Camp is Sudan’s largest and oldest internally displaced persons camp. MSF conducted a rapid nutrition and mortality survey of 3,296 people in 400 households from 10 to 13 January 2024. The study found that almost a quarter of children were acutely malnourished and 7% were severely acutely malnourished. Among children aged 6 months to 2 years, nearly 40% were malnourished, and 15% of them were acutely malnourished. The combined emergency threshold for moderate and severe acute malnutrition (total acute malnutrition rate) is 15%, indicating that Zamzam camp requires an emergency response.
The daily death rate in the camps is 2.5 per 10,000 people. This is more than double the standard value that indicates a state of emergency, and is extremely alarming. Additionally, 40% of pregnant and breastfeeding women were also found to be malnourished,
underscoring the seriousness of the situation.
MSF is rapidly expanding its response in camps and providing treatment to the most critically ill children, but MSF alone is not enough. 1 child dies every 2 hours
Claire Nicolet, MSF’s head of emergency response in Sudan, said: “What we are seeing is a truly devastating situation. Current estimates are that around 13 children are being killed every day, or one every two hours. Children who are severely malnourished are at high risk of dying within three to six weeks if they are not treated. Although treatment is available in medical facilities, many do not have access to medical care. “Hmm,” he says.
MSF is the only medical organization operating in the camp, and its small clinic is overwhelmed by the number of patients and the severity of their symptoms. Over the past nine months, North Darfur’s already fragile health system and all humanitarian responses have collapsed. The clinic became one of the few fully functioning outpatient clinics in North Darfur. People travel on donkeys or on foot from villages up to 50 kilometers away from the camp to receive medical care, and they camp overnight outside the clinic waiting for treatment so that the children do not miss out on treatment.
Conditions in the camp are dire, with no medical facilities other than an MSF clinic, and no clean water. People are trying to survive with water from swamps and rivers, but this can lead to severe diarrhea. It can be fatal for children who are already malnourished, and it can lead to malnutrition in otherwise healthy children, causing their health to deteriorate rapidly.
Camp residents abandoned by aid
“Before the conflict began last April, people in the camp relied on international aid for everything, including food, medical care and clean water. They are now completely abandoned,” Nicolet said in May. Since then, food distribution from the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has stopped, and families who previously received two meals a day say they are now receiving only one.As a result, people children are starving and children are dying.”
“Severe malnutrition, such as that currently occurring, has many contributing factors. January is usually the month when malnutrition is at its lowest, following the harvest of crops in December, when food stocks are at their highest. However, over the past year, the unstable security situation has continued and people have been unable to go out to work in the fields.Furthermore, with little rain, the meager agricultural production has fallen below average. Although the peak period of April to September is still a long way off, the number of cases is already large and is expected to increase dramatically in the coming months.”
massive aid from the international community
[Image 2: https://prtimes.jp/i/4782/669/resize/d4782-669-7784f5002f02e5bc2f84-1.jpg&s3=4782-669-e361c21ba75064484db8fecea5f05880-1000×750.jpg] Women and children gather at the MSF clinic in Zamzam camp, January 30, 2024 (C) MSF
Until April 2023, North Darfur’s health system was supported by United Nations agencies, including WFP, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This aid has now been suspended and supply routes, both land and air, have been severely disrupted. Staff are no longer receiving salaries, and equipment and medicine are in short supply. Supplies needed to run medical facilities, such as fuel for generators and water, are also in short supply.
The nutritional treatment program that once existed in the state capital, El Fasir, has also disappeared. Currently, there is no place in this area where children can receive basic medical care. The parties to the conflict need to open and use El Fashir airport as soon as possible. This would allow humanitarian agencies to quickly resume support not only in Zamzam camp but across North Darfur.
MSF is the only international aid organization providing free pediatric care in the five Darfur states of Sudan, an area roughly the size of France, with over 11 million children’s hospital beds. There are only 78 beds for the population.
Nicolet said: “Child patients are transported from Zamzam camp every day. But mortality studies show that there are hundreds of children who cannot even reach the clinic.” Thanks to the massive support of the international community, “It is possible to prevent the situation from worsening. We cannot stand by and watch people continue to suffer in silence. Unless we ramp up aid rapidly, many more children will die.”
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